The hulking football players couldn't do it – they couldn't stop Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, one of the league's fastest and strongest. In a word, the NFL's 2012 MVP is the kind of guy who comes across as invincible.
Until a bowl of seafood gumbo nearly took him down.
During training camp in 2012, a previously unknown shellfish allergy threw Peterson, now 28, into anaphylactic shock. That's the medical term for a severe, whole-body allergic reaction that involves the sudden release of chemicals like histamine, which cause the airways to close. Anaphylaxis is life-threatening, and symptoms include itching of the eyes and face, trouble swallowing or breathing, abdominal pain, vomiting and hives. The only way to treat such a reaction is to use an autoinjectible epinephrine – like an EpiPen – and get to the closest emergency room, according to guidelines from the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology. Epinephrine, which is adrenaline, is typically injected into the thigh, and it helps rapidly reverse anaphylactic symptoms.
Peterson, who's the face of a new Anaphylaxis Preparedness Campaign sponsored by the pharmaceutical company Mylan Inc., opened up to U.S. News about his experiences and why he's advocating better awareness and preparedness for those might suffer a similar experience. His responses have been edited.
Let's go back to the day you went into anaphylactic shock. Re-create the experience.
I had a couple bowls of seafood gumbo at lunch that day, and 30 minutes after eating I went back to my room to rest up for afternoon practice. At the time, I didn't necessarily know what I was experiencing, but my throat and eyes were very itchy. I remember lying there and rubbing my eyes – just rubbing and rubbing. So I got up and looked in the mirror and everything was swollen. I got on the phone immediately and called my athletic trainer, and I told him what was happening and that I couldn't breathe out of my nose. He said he was coming right up, but as soon as I hung up the phone with him, my throat started to close even more. So I was about to go downstairs and try to meet him, but as soon as I came out of my room, he was coming up the elevator. He had an EpiPen autoinjector in his hand, so he showed me how to use it and I managed to insert it into my right thigh. Almost immediately, my throat started to loosen up and I was able to breathe a lot better. We went to the hospital after that, and I ultimately had tests done and found out I was allergic to shrimp, scallops and lobster.
How did you stay calm in such a scary situation?
You know what, that's very important. I've been through a lot of different situations, and the key thing I've learned is: Don't panic. That's the advice I give people. If anaphylaxis occurs, just do the necessary things. If it's your first time, call and seek emergency assistance and find out exactly what's happening. Get help.
What's your game plan now, so this doesn't happen again?
It's knowing my allergic triggers and always avoiding them. And I always have access to my autoinjectors. I keep mine at home and in my locker, and my trainer always has one for me. I carry one with me in my coat pocket.
[Read: Strange (but True) Food Allergies.]
Do your teammates help support you?
Yeah, that's definitely a part of it. And especially when it happened, I was able to share with them what I had experienced, what it was and how to be prepared if anaphylaxis occurs again. Because here I am, a big, macho guy on the football field, and I had this allergic reaction that was life-threatening. So I've been able to share my story with them and with my family.
Why do you feel it's important to raise awareness about anaphylaxis?
Because a lot of people are at risk. You take my story, for instance. My favorite food was seafood, and that's all I used to eat. And then there I was, 27 years old, and bam, I have this allergic reaction – and it's life-threatening. So it's very important to spread the word and spread awareness so people can be better prepared in case anaphylaxis occurs in their life. Having this platform I have, a lot of adults respect me and a lot of kids look up to me. And you know, who better to help spread the word to America?